September Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Croissants
In one of the scenes in the movie “It’s Complicated,’’ Meryl Streep and Steve Martin, go to Meryl Streep’s bakery. It is late at night and both of them are hungry, really hungry. She offers him anything on her bakery menu and he chooses chocolate croissants. The scene of her cutting and stuffing the croissants with chocolate is tantalizing.
That movie is one of my favorites, primarily because of Meryl Streep’s kitchen and the idea of owning and running a bakery like hers. I could watch that movie again and again, just to relive Meryl Streep’s life in the movie. The movie also makes me want to whip up croissants like that.
So when this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge was to make croissants (something that had been on my to-do list for way too long), I was happy. Very happy.
The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!
Till date, the best croissants I have had were *drumroll* NOT in France. Would you believe it, I never tried the croissants when I was in France!! Well, we were in Paris for little over a day only and somehow I did not get the opportunity to try one! I guess its for the best- this way I owe the French croissants another trip!
The best croissants I have ever had were actually in Turkey where I had joined my parents for a vacation. We were staying in a small house kind of hotel/motel in the heart of Istanbul. Everyday the owner would serve us one croissant each with half a tomato, 3-4 olives, cheese and an egg cooked any way we liked. The owner used to get the croissants fresh from a nearby bakery. That croissant was the best I have ever had (and so was the breakfast) and the taste still lingers in my mouth. The croissant was exactly how it should be- buttery, flaky outside and moist inside. The crust would crackle when bit into. They were just perfect and delicious. If I had the cash, I would make a trip to Turkey just for those croissants!
I have tried making croissants once before. About two-three years back. I was in India at the time. And Indian summers are one of the worsts to try making croissants and everything from the word go went wrong with the recipe. The high amount of butter in the recipe ensured that the croissants were still edible (and tasty), but they were nothing like croissants. After that I never tried.
I did have a shot at laminated dough- the puff pastry dough. The dough was a success and is one of my favorite go-to recipes.
Equipped with that success, I was still not confident about giving croissants another shot. And thankfully, Daring Bakers’ came to the rescue.
It’s probably a good thing that croissants are so fussy to make or I’d be eating them every day. The whole process of making the croissant dough, laminating it with butter, shaping, and baking is almost a two-day affair. But, its SO WORTH IT!
Many people say that croissants originated in 1686 in Budapest, Hungary by a courageous and watchful baker, at a time when the city was being attacked by the Turks. The baker’s alertness help destroy a tunnel that the Turks were using to get in the city. The baker became a hero, but a humble hero — all he wanted in reward was the sole right to bake a special pastry commemorating the fight. The pastry was shaped like a crescent, the symbol of Islam, and presumably meant that the Hungarians had eaten the Turks for lunch.
The idea of having the best croissants in Turkey seems even more astonishing now, does it not?
But, this story is all made up, first showing up in the first version of the great French food reference Larousse Gastronomique, in 1938. Later on, the story switched locations to Vienna, during the Turkish siege there in 1863, but that was also a fabrication.
No one knows when or where the first croissant was baked, but it was definitely in France and certainly not before 1850.
Whatever the origin, I am glad they came into being.
The process of making croissants is not a fairly easy one, but thanks to the many tips (especially those by Audax and Txfarmer) on the Daring Bakers’ forum and the wonderful recipe by Sarah (and more thankfully, a favorable weather here in my town), I was able to make flaky and buttery croissants.
Next time I will definitely double the recipe. Though the original recipe yield is 12 croissants, I followed other members and made only 8 bigger sized croissants. Also, next time I will also reduce the salt called for in the recipe, as I found the croissants tad salty. I will also try whole wheat ones and chocolate ones.
Though the recipe is the same as given by Sarah, the steps are a combination of Sarah’s and Txfarmer’s.
Summary of rise time:
First rise: room temp 3 hours;
Second rise: fridge 8 hours;
After shaping: fridge overnight, then brush with egg wash and proof at 80F for 3.5 hrs
- ¼ oz (7 gm) of fresh yeast, or 1¼ teaspoon (6¼ ml/4 gm) of dry-active yeast (about ½ sachet)
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) warm water (less than 100°F/38°C)
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml/4½ gm) sugar
- 1 3/4 cups (225 gm/½ lb) of strong plain flour (I used Bread flour)
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) sugar
- 1½ teaspoon (7½ ml/9 gm) salt
- ½ cup (120 ml/¼ pint) milk (I used whole milk)
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) tasteless oil (I used generic vegetable oil)
- ½ cup (120 ml/1 stick/115 gm/¼ lb) chilled, unsalted butter
- 1 egg whisked with a little milk, for egg wash
- Mix the yeast, warm water, and first teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Leave aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little.
- Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and remaining sugar.
- Place the flour in a large bowl.
- Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour
- Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and let it rest a minute while you wash out the bowl.
- Knead the dough eight to ten times only. The best way is as Julia Child does it in the video (see below). It essentially involves smacking the dough on the counter (lots of fun if you are mad at someone) and removing it from the counter using the pastry scraper.
- Place the dough back in the bowl, and place the bowl in the plastic bag. (I used a garbage bag- a CLEAN garbage bag)
- Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F/24°C for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.
- After the dough has tripled in size, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured board or countertop, and roll it into a rectangle about 8 by 14 inches.
- Fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up)
- Place the dough letter back in the bowl, and the bowl back in the plastic bag.
- Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size. This second rise can be done overnight in the fridge.
- Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter. Once the dough has doubled, it’s time to incorporate the butter
- Cut the roll-in butter into pieces, put between two sheets of plastic or wax paper. Use a rolling pin to tap the butter until it’s soft enough to roll, roll between the two sheets until it’s a 7.5X7.5inch square. Put in fridge.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter. Let it rest for a minute or two.
- Roll the dough out until it’s double size of the butter sheet, 11X11inch in this case. Tap butter until it’s roll-able, and the texture is similar to the dough. Put the butter in the middle of the dough as following, fold up dough and seal the butter. Pay attention to corners and edges, you don’t want spots where there’s no butter.
- Roll out into a 8X24inch rectangle, do your first fold as the letter fold shown above. One thing to keep in mind here: don’t trap the dough! Before folding, cut the edge off to expose the layers before folding that side into the crease of the dough, that way there’s no “extra trapped dough.
- Wrap the dough package in plastic wrap, and put in fridge and rest for 1 hour. Take out dough and repeat the rolling and folding 2 mroe times, which gives 3 folds in total.
- It’s now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants.
- First, lightly butter your baking sheet so that it is ready.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on the lightly floured board or counter
- Roll the dough out into a 20 by 5 inch rectangle. [above Step 1]
- Cut the dough into two rectangles (each 10 by 5 inches) [above Step 1]
- Place one of the rectangles in the fridge, to keep the butter cold.
- Roll the second rectangle out until it is 10 by 5 inches.
- Cut the rectangle into two squares (each 5 by 5 inches) [above Step 2]
- Place the other square in the fridge.
- The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime. Roll it out again till it is nearly square.
- Cut the square diagonally into two triangles. [above Step 3]
- Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is not a right-angle triangle, but more of an isosceles (about 4.5 inches at the base and 9 inch tall)
- Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape.
- Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet.
- Repeat the process with the remaining squares of dough, creating 8 croissants in total.
- Mix the egg with a teaspoon of milk.
- Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants. (first egg wash)
- Leave the tray of croissants, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 3-3.5 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Egg wash again.
- Bake at 425 for first 10min, and then reduce temperature to 375F and bake for another 15min, or until the tops are browned nicely.
- Take the croissants out of the oven, and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- About browning your baked goods, try to use a double egg wash. Firstly about the egg wash use for each whole egg one teaspoon of water or milk whisk well. When you shape your croissants brush well with egg wash, and egg wash again just before you put them into oven.
- Try to have a lot of space between your croissants on the baking tray this helps heat circulate between the rolls.
- Try to have a baking sheet with low sides which helps with the browning.
- Bread flour has more gluten, so the dough will be stronger. Again a stronger dough would be harder to roll out, but the finished product would have more volume and more distinct layers and honeycomb crumb structure.
- Knead the dough longer than what the recipe suggests. More kneading =stronger dough, you must find the sweet spot where it’s possible to roll out and yields good crumb. ( I kneaded the dough till it was soft and smooth).
- Do trim the edges to keep corns straight and clean. This is also to make sure butter layers reach everywhere. In another word, if there are edges where there’s no butter between two dough layers, trim it off. Keep in mind that, those butterless spot would be folded many times and affect the crumb greatly.
- Don’t be afraid to put the dough in fridge and let it rest. If you find yourself struggling to roll it out, put it in the fridge and walk away for one hour or more. It’s especially true in hot weather, if you operate on the dough for more than 5 min, you are at the risk of melting the butter.
- For “standard” size croissants, the triangle need to be 4 to 5 inchs at the bottom, 9 to 10inchs tall, 1/8 to 1/4 inchs thick. For this recipe, I reduced size to 4 inches at the bottom, 8 inches tall, and I got 8 of them.
- Proof fully, for a long time. Longer than you expect. I proofed for 3.5 hours (don’t proof hotter than 80F, butter would melt and leak)
- Make sure to use a good European style butter. Cheaper butter has higher water content, which means it would be much easier to melt. Txfarmer recommends Plugra but I used Land O’Lakes and was satisfied with the results. I am sure a true European butter with 3.5-5% more butterfat would yield a better result but for the home baker Land O’Lakes does the trick.
Other sources to help with croissant shaping and kneading the dough: